Dr. Margret Nickels, Director of Erikson Institute's Center for Children and Families www.erikson.edu has some tips for parents to help their children through this transition.
No sudden adjustments or changes
- This includes having the child move to a new bedroom, changing caretakers or other routines.
- All of these changes should occur gradually, before the new baby is born or some time afterwards, so that your first-born doesn't feel like the entire world is instantly upended by the arrival of this baby.
Be responsive to your child's feelings
- Accept your older child acting like a baby (e.g., wearing diapers, drinking from a bottle, etc.).
- Allow them to try out these behaviors without shaming them, but do remind them that they are the big brother or sister and big kids can do much more than babies.
- Also, talk to your older child and help put into words the kinds of feelings he may be experiencing. Acknowledge that you spend a lot of time caring for the baby and that may make him feel like you love the baby more. Reassure him that you have plenty of love for both of them.
Support your child in the new role of the older sibling
- Teach the older child how to be a big brother or sister. This includes helping take care of the baby by having them bring diapers, hand you wipes, etc.
- Have the older child close when you nurse or feed the baby.
Foster a relationship between both children
- With your older child near, talk to the baby about the older sibling as much as possible. Tell the baby about what the older child did that day, what she learned at school, what games she played. Tell the baby that when he is that age, his older sister can teach him those things. This will help your older child feel included and special.
- Talk to your older child about what the baby might be feeling and communicating, such "your little sister cries because that is her way of letting us know she is hungry".
Don't be too hard on yourself
- Perfect parents don't exist, and you will not be able to be the same parent to two children as you were with just one.
- Ask for help when you need it and take it when it's offered.
More ways parents can prepare their older child for the arrival of a new sibling.
- Read books about new babies
- Take your child to see a friend who had a new baby and talk about what the baby does and needs
- Let them help as much as possible in preparing for the baby
- Talk about who will take care of the child when mom goes to the hospital to have the baby
- Provide your child with toys such as a baby doll, bottles, new born diapers, that help explore the ideas and feelings around having a new baby in the family.
- Show your child pictures of them when they were a baby, and talk about how you took care of them, and then look at pictures of how they grew and developed over time.
- Arrange for play dates for your older child, positive peer relationships have shown to help preschoolers adjust better to the arrival of a new sibling
About Margret Nickels, Ph.D.
Center director Margret Nickels is a clinical psychologist who has worked with parents and children in the Chicago area for more than 20 years. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Northwestern University. She has served on several advisory committees to the Child Protection Division of Cook County Juvenile Court and has extensive experience evaluating and working with families in custody disputes. Dr. Nickels is a member of the Illinois Governor's Advisory Committee on Early Childhood Mental Health. Among other areas of expertise, she specializes in the promotion of healthy attachment relationships, as well as in understanding early childhood social emotional and behavior problems. She also serves as clinical director of Erikson's Fussy Baby Network.
About the Center for Children and Families (www.erikson.edu/ccf.aspx) offers family-centered assessment and treatment for developmental, social-emotional, behavioral, and learning issues in children. Its multidisciplinary team of therapists, psychologists, developmental and behavioral pediatricians, and social workers specializes in addressing a wide range of concerns, including: depression; attention issues; sleep or eating problems; aggression behavior problems, parent/child relationships; and developmental delays and disorders, including autism spectrum disorder.
About Erikson Institute. Erikson (www.erikson.edu) is the nation's only graduate school to focus exclusively on child development from birth to age eight. An independent institution of higher education, it prepares child development professionals for leadership through academic programs, applied research and community involvement. For more than 40 years, the Institute has advanced the ability of educators, practitioners, researchers and decision-makers to improve the lives of children and their families. Erikson alumni are active in many different fields, including education, infant mental health, childcare, social policy and research, family and social services and health services.